Researchers led by Durham University said touching different parts of face can indicate a baby's physical and psychological development in the womb
Scientists, also from Lancaster University, said babies could be ill if they are not able to anticipate touch by certain points of the pregnancy
The study is the first to demonatrate that foetuses can predict and not just react to touch and sheds more light on when a baby is ready to be born.
Babies learn how to anticipate touch while in the womb and how they touch their face and head can be an indicator of how well they are developing physically and psychologically before they are born.
For the first time, psychologists discovered that foetuses were able to predict, rather than react to, their own hand movements towards their mouths as they entered the later stages of gestation compared to earlier in a pregnancy.
The researchers believe their findings could improve understanding about babies, especially those born prematurely, their readiness to interact socially and their ability to calm themselves by sucking on their thumb or fingers.Being able to predict, rather than just react to touch is a characteristic normally seen in the later stages of pregnancy. Here, a foetus can be seen opening its mouth before placing its hand inside at 32 weeks
They also said the results could also be a potential indicator of how prepared babies are for feeding.
Scientists believe anticipation is a key marker in a healthy baby’s development and it could be a sign of illness if babies don’t do it by certain points of the pregnancy.
Only when the ability to anticipate touch and move with intention - for example opening the mouth to suck - has developed is a baby ready to leave the safety of the womb, they added.The 32 week-old foetus begins by parting their lips in the anticipation of touching their mouth area with a limb (pictured left) then the foetus begins to stretch open its mouth (pictured right)
Psychologist Dr Nadja Reissland explained: 'Increased touching of the lower part of the face and mouth in foetuses could be an indicator of brain development necessary for healthy development, including preparedness for social interaction, self-soothing and feeding.'
The discovery comes after a previous study found babies make faces in the womb, potentially as practice before coming in to the world.
Dr Reissland and a team of researchers from Lancaster University and Durham University, which led the study, used '4D' ultrasound scans - 3D scans that can be seen in real time - to image eight girls and seven boys once a month between the 24th and 36th week of pregnancy.
Many more pictures at link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2448713/Remarkable-3D-images-touch-reflects-unborn-childs-development.html